When it comes to costume design in cinema, few projects compel an artist to delve deep into the chemistry of fabric and the nuances of its aging under the sun and harsh weather conditions. For Stephy Zaviour, a significant chapter of her career was defined by the film Aadujeevitham, where her expertise in costume design was tested to its limits. Each project for a costume designer has its set of challenges, yet Aadujeevitham stood as a zenith in Zaviour’s professional journey—a testament to the dedication and innovation that the cinematic world sometimes demands.

Aadujeevitham, a film by Blessy, is nothing short of an epic and has garnered much attention for its meticulous attention to detail, especially in the realm of costume design. Stephy Zaviour, the ingenious mind behind the costumes of Aadujeevitham, recounts the novel approach she had to adopt for this project. For the first time, she found herself delving into the chemical structure and material density of fabrics—a detail overlooked in previous endeavors but critically important here to prevent any interference with sound recording, as per the insistence of sound designer Resul Pookutty.

What differentiates her work in Aadujeevitham from her previous films is the extensive research that went into portraying Najeeb, the protagonist lost in his “goat days” within the cruel expanse of a desert. The intriguing challenge was that there were no existing photographs to reference. Zaviour’s design decisions hinged on the vivid descriptions penned by author Benyamin and the director Blessy’s vision. It was her mission, through her designs, to bridge the gap between this visual interpretation and the audience’s imagination.

Dispensing with guesswork, Stephy relied on old photographs and videos obtained from various photo studios to ensure authenticity in her designs. This era-specific project during the 1980s-90s required precision, and with Blessy being uncompromising on accuracy, there was a reassuring lack of room for error.

The desert attire of Najeeb, portrayed by Prithviraj Sukumaran, was meticulously handsewn, showcasing the harsh passage of time through its stains, tears, and fading. Zaviour’s ingenuity was not just cosmetic; there had to be consistent aging in multiple pieces of garments, including the traditional thawb or thobe, making them appear convincingly weathered and worn.

The handmade footwear also speaks volumes of the attention to detail, with Blessy sending her specific sketches with the exact look and intended wear-and-tear to symbolize the struggle endured by Najeeb traversing the unforgiving desert landscape.

Beyond the sun’s effect, water was another elemental challenge, particularly for a scene featuring actors Prithviraj and Amala Paul underwater. The fabric not only needed to flow gracefully but also retain color consistency in both wet and dry states—a feat achieved through innovative experimentation by submerging fabric swatches in a transparent bucket of water.

Zaviour praises Prithviraj’s professionalism, as he donned the same rugged and stained costumes over a span of seven years of shooting, enduring the scorching heat without complaint—a testament to his dedication as an actor. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought its own set of trials, but Zaviour credits her steadfast assistants—Sanooj, Rafi, and Zulfi—for their support since pre-production began in 2017.

Despite being relatively inexperienced at the time, Zaviour reflects on the trust and support she received from Blessy, which bolstered her confidence. While curious about why she was chosen for this mammoth task, she finds comfort in the possibility that some questions are better left unanswered.

Aadujeevitham, a cinematic journey spanning years and traversing thousands of miles from India to Jordan and Algeria, demanded more than just design—it required a careful continuity and attention to every minute detail of costume. Stephy Zaviour, who has recently ventured into direction with Madhura Manohara Moham and has notable credits of costume designs in films like Ishq, Joseph, Guppy, and Jana Gana Mana, regards Aadujeevitham as a singular experience in her career that won’t likely be replicated.

As Aadujeevitham’s saga unfolds, its audience will witness not just a gripping narrative but also the embodiment of a costume designer’s laborious and artful dedication woven into every frame. Zaviour’s costume box has indeed traveled great distances, but the journey it represents in Indian cinema is far greater.

By IPL Agent

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